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Researcher: "Hard not to see" link between Nato bid and PKK flag ban

Helsinki police told demonstrators not to display PKK flags during an Independence Day demonstration on Tuesday.

Helsinki without Nazis demonstrators march through the city on Independence Day 2022. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle
Yle News,
STT

Helsinki police officers banned the display of flags representing the Kurdish group PKK and related organisations, at the 'Helsinki Without Nazis' Independence Day demonstration on Tuesday evening.

Toni Alaranta, Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said he wonders about the motivations behind the ban.

"It's hard not to see the connection with [Finland's] ongoing Nato membership process," Alaranta said.

Ankara has accused Finland and Sweden of harbouring people it considers terrorists, including members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The Turkish government has not ratified the Nordic countries' Nato applications.

There were reports of PKK flags being displayed at an Independence Day demonstration in Oulu this year, but those were not banned.

"They were also seen at demonstrations last summer, but no one was interested in them then. Now, Turkey is putting the brakes on Finland's Nato membership, citing terrorism concerns, so the issue is timely," Alaranta said.

Helsinki without Nazis demonstrators march on the evening of Independence Day 2022. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Chief Inspector Heikki Porola, head of Helsinki police department's response and control division, told news service STT about the course of events on Independence Day.

"We negotiated with the [demonstration] organisers, saying that the PKK symbols should not be used," Porola explained, adding that the flags could be kept where the demonstration march began, at Narinkka Square.

However, Porola said, the flags could not be taken along on the march, due to concerns about provoking people taking part in counter demonstrations.

"They ended up leaving the flags in their cars and participating in the march," Porola said.

Iltalehti has reported that in addition to PKK flags, the ban also applied to flags representing Kurdish organisations including the YPG, YPJ, PYD, KCK and PJAK.

"What was discussed [on Tuesday] were PKK organisations," Porola said, noting that the Kurdish emblem was already familiar to officers because the flags have appeared at previous demonstrations in the city.

However, Porola said the ban on displaying such flags is neither categorical nor definitive.

He said decisions about their display will be made on a case-by-case basis in the future, adding that the authority to ban the flags is based in Assembly Act legislation, and that he made the decision to ban their display himself.

Porola noted that the PKK is on the EU's list (siirryt toiseen palveluun) of terrorist organisations.

The PKK flag, file photo. Image: Herrn / CC BY-SA 3.0

"[Allowing the flags] would create a setting in which someone could get worked up about the fact there is a terrorist organisation's flag there," he explained.

However, according to STT reporters who observed the various demonstrations on the evening of Independence Day, there were a few people taking part in an extreme right-wing demonstration who were wearing Nazi symbols, but noted that police did not ban them.

In 2018, Helsinki police did confiscate a swastika flag on Independence Day, with the neo-Nazi Kohti vapautta ('toward freedom') demonstration involving around 200-300 people.

But this year, police did not take away Nazi-related symbols because officers did not notice them being displayed, according to Porola.

According to the Institute of International Affairs' Toni Alaranta, it is not clear whether supporters of the PKK have clashed with members of Finland's far-right groups. Police have not been concerned about such provocations before, he said.

"The question that's raised is 'who are they provoking?' A situation comes to mind that we would have nationalistic Turkish groups who would be provoked by the flags and go fight with the people carrying the flags, but they don't exist, so this provocation cannot be related to anything other than the Turkish state and thus, our stuck Nato membership process," Alaranta said.

"Sure, the Finnish far-right has clashed with the Finnish left-wing movement, and left-wing supporters of the PKK are in left-wing circles, but it seems far-fetched it would be the reason for the police's decision," Alaranta continued.

Organisers of the Helsinki without Nazis demonstration have sharply condemned the police's actions, accusing the law enforcement agency of siding with the Turkish dictatorship.

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